Fuel Smarts

One-Armed Trucker Sues State

May 08, 2001

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A one-armed truck driver is suing the Oregon Department of Transportation for violating his civil rights by not allowing him to drive without a prosthetic arm.

Scott Cook, 43, of Brandon, Ore., lost his left arm below the elbow in a meat grinder when he was five years old. The owner-operator has driven his log truck in Alaska and Oregon for nearly 20 years without an accident. He has spent years cutting timber, flying planes, fishing commercially and racing motorcyles - all without a prosthesis.
However, federal law requires truck drivers to be able to grip a steering wheel or knobs and gears with the "upper limb" on both sides. A waiver is available, but DOT officials say they'll give him one only if he uses a prosthetic arm that grips the steering wheel. However, Cook believes that because he lost his arm at such a young age, his body has compensated through the development of different motor skills and a powerful, muscular right arm.
"The FAA gave me a waiver to fly a plane by giving me a test," Cook says. "The DOT is supposed to do the same thing."
Physical therapist Bill Pierce told The Oregonian that prosthetics are always tricky, especially above the elbow. "With the residual limb [Cook] has, he probably has maximum sensitivity. He can make a judgment on whether or not he had a firm 'grip' on the wheel. When you take an object and put it on the end of his arm, he has lost that sensation."
DOT officers have stopped Cook twice on state highways and shut him down. Both times, he resumed driving, risking more fines and possibly even arrest. A Curry County Circuit Court judge dismissed the first citation issued against him last year, saying his doctor had cleared him to drive. But he was stopped and cited again in January by the same official. The judge's decision carries no weight in the face of federal motor carrier safety regulations.
Cook's lawsuit seeks $438,000 for past and future income losses and $5 million in punitive damages and attorney's fees. It claims the DOT's actions violate state and federal civil rights laws, the U.S. Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The trucker told the paper he is struggling to pay his bills and is selling his 1964 Peterbilt log truck. He's working with his 20-year-old son as a commercial salmon fisherman.

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